GAO calls for better data on antibiotic use in livestock

Federal auditor finds little progress in past decade

Published: September 13, 2011
By Jim Downing

Ten years after the release of a multi-agency plan to combat antibiotic resistance, the federal government still does not collect basic data on drug use in livestock critical to understanding the problem, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report made public today.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently began reporting summary figures on sales of livestock antibiotics, the agency does not report details such as the quantity of antibiotics administered by veterinarians to treat illnesses versus the quantity routinely fed to animals without veterinary supervision. Further, federal data on the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat products are spotty, the report found.

"These data lack crucial details necessary to examine trends and understand the relationship between use and resistance," the GAO concluded. In the United States, roughly 80 percent of all antibiotics are administered to livestock, according to FDA figures released last December.

In 2001, following the release of a GAO report on the human health implications of livestock antibiotic use, a coalition of 10 federal agencies released a national plan to address antibiotic resistance. The latest GAO study found that many of the goals specified in the 2001 document have not been met. The auditing agency recommended that the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture address the many remaining data gaps and take steps to investigate and promote alternatives to the routine use of antibiotics in livestock.

The report released today was prepared in response to a request by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., who has introduced a number of bills aimed at restricting antibiotic use in agriculture.

In May, the VIN News Service published a four-part series on the debate within the veterinary profession over antibiotic use in livestock.

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